“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – Blue Oyster Cult
“Bad Habit” – The Kooks
“I Wanna Be Sedated” – Ramones
“Girls” – The 1975
“Get It On” – T. Rex
“Liability” – Lorde
“Heart of Glass” – Blondie
“Teen Idle” – Marina and the Diamonds
“What Is and What Should Never Be” – Led Zeppelin
“Adore” – Amy Shark
“Because the Night” – Patti Smith
“Tear in My Heart” – Twenty One Pilots
“Don’t forget the corn chips!” yelled Georgia, hanging out of her car window.
“And hot salsa, Edie. None of that mild crap, you coward.”
I flipped her off and kept walking, watching the ground.
Rain had turned every pothole in the Drop Stop’s parking lot into a mini-swamp. We were finally out of a drought, so yay for rain. Bottle caps and cigarette stubs were floating like tiny boats on murky waters. The Northern California wind made waves, blurring the yellow light reflecting off the Open sign. Everything else was dark. Things were quiet in Auburn around midnight. Georgia and I were forced to drive across town to meet our movie marathon snacking needs. Watching all eight Harry Potter films in a row being our contribution as citizens of the Endurance Capital of the world.
As if I’d forget the Oreos, I said to myself, entering the shitty little store.
What you’re most likely to drop at the Drop Stop are your standards. And I had. It had been my black yoga pants, a sports bra, and a baggy old blue T-shirt versus Georgia’s satin unicorn-print slip. In the jammies most likely to be mistaken for normal clothing competition, I was the clear winner. I don’t think it occurred to either of us to actually bother getting dressed. Too much effort for summer break.
Inside, the fluorescent lights were dazzling, the air-conditioning cold enough to give me goose bumps. But there it was. An aisle’s worth of every bad food choice you could possibly make and as my ass could testify, I’d made them all. Happily and repeatedly.
I grabbed a plastic shopping basket and got busy.
There were only a couple of other customers. A tall guy in a black hoodie and some other kid, talking in low voices, over by the beer fridge. I highly doubted either one of them was of legal age to be drinking. One of the local college students manned the shop counter, identifiable by the textbook he’d chosen to hide behind. Note to self: Study like crazy all through senior year if you want an offer from Berkeley.
Hershey bars, Reese’s Pieces, Oreos, Gummy Bears, Milk Duds, Skittles, Twinkies, Doritos, and a jar of salsa. The bottle proclaimed it to be hotter than hell; there was even a demon dancing on the side. It all went into the basket, each and every major processed food group represented. Still, there was a little room left and it’d be silly not to go all in since we’d driven to the other side of town. Why, it’d take a good ten to fifteen minutes at least just to get back to Georgia’s parents’ place. Sustenance for the journey alone would be required.
A tube of Pringles for good luck and prosperity, and we were done.
I dumped my basket on the counter, making college boy jump. Guess he’d been seriously engrossed in his studies. Startled brown eyes gawked at me from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
Shit, he was cute.
Immediately, I turned away, only to be facing an entire stand of titty magazines. Wow. I sincerely hoped a percentage of sales went toward helping women with lower-back problems. Some of those breasts were scarily big. Nothing much could be seen through the filthy window, but it might have started raining again. So wearing flip-flops had probably been a mistake.
Beep, beep, beep went the sales register, adding up my purchases. Excellent. Cute clerk guy and I were ignoring each other. No further eye contact was made. This was the best of all possible outcomes. Human interactions in general were a trial, but attractive people were far and away the worst. They unnerved me. I always started sweating and turning red, my brain an empty, useless place.
All of my loot got shoved into a thin white plastic bag, guaranteed to tear halfway across the parking lot. Never mind. I’d hold it against my front, stretch the bottom of my T-shirt out to bolster it or something. Easier than asking him to double-bag it.
I shoved the money in his vague direction, mumbled thank you, and got moving. Mission accomplished.
Except a scrawny guy entering the store was in an even bigger hurry than me. We collided and I lost, my flip-flops sliding out from under me, thanks to the wet floor. I stumbled back into the shelving before dropping, hitting the cold, hard ground. The plastic bag broke and shit went everywhere. Fother mucker.
“Awesome,” I muttered sarcastically. Followed up fast with a sarcastic, “I’m fine. No problem.”
How embarrassing. Not that anyone was paying me any attention. Must have caught a metal edge on the way down because I had a scratch on my waist. It stung like a bitch, both it and my bruised ass.
College boy gasped. Fair enough. I’d be pissed too if some fat chick in pajamas started throwing her stuff everywhere. But the douche canoe who’d sent me reeling slammed his hand onto the counter, snarling something, as college boy stuttered, “P-please. D-d-don’t.”
I froze, realizing this wasn’t about me crashing into the shelf.
Not even a little bit.
College boy fumbled with the register, panic written all over his face. This was wrong. All of it. Time slowed as the kid punched register buttons, tears flowing down his face because it wouldn’t open for some reason. Skinny guy was shouting and waving something in the air like he’d lost his mind.
Suddenly the drawer flew open with a discordant little jingle.
College boy grabbed a wad of cash, shoving it into a plastic bag as the skinny guy slammed a hand down on the counter again, full of frustration and anger. Then the scream of a police siren split the air and I heard tires screech. I watched in horror as a battered car careened out of the parking lot, knocking over a garbage can and spilling trash across the pavement. A cop car followed it over the curb as another came to a halt in front of the store, lights blazing.
The man at the counter spun toward the parking lot, yelling something indecipherable as he twitched, his eyes messed up, pupils swollen and huge. Red patches—sores—covered his face, and his teeth were nothing more than rotting stumps. Then I saw the gun in his hand and my heart stopped.